The Types of Water Softener

Which Water Softener Should You Buy?

Are you struggling to decide which water softener to buy? It’s not surprising. There are so many companies claiming their softener is the answer to your problem. Does it really matter which one you buy? Should you just go with the cheapest? When you factor in all the costs of ownership, how do the products compare?

Fortunately, we’ve done the hard work for you. In this review, we’ll look at the water softening industry for a range of specific water softeners and explore the pros and cons of each, including cost comparisons.

Firstly, we’ll look at the traditional salt-based water softeners and then at the advanced technology of the salt-free alternatives.

Why use a Salt-Based Water Softener?

Salt-based water softeners do work. Providing you buy from a reputable company, they should tackle your hard water problem. Let’s look specifically at two brands that use salt; the Fleck and the Crystal Quest.

  • Both of these products will help you prevent the build-up of a white scale around your home, reducing the amount of time and money you spend cleaning.
  • Both will increase the lifespan of your household appliances by allowing them to work more efficiently.
  • Both will remove the minerals that cause hard water (calcium and magnesium), meaning your hair and skin will feel softer when you shower.

But although these salt systems will work in removing your hard water, you need to know at what cost this is to you and the environment.

So what’s wrong with using a salt system?

  • Salt systems waste a lot of water, increasing your annual water bills. It’s estimated that salt-free softeners use up to 4 x less water than salt systems.
  • Wastewater becomes a salty brine, damaging our ecosystems when released into our rivers and waterways. Agriculture and industry are also affected. Farmers, for example, use our wastewater to irrigate their crops. But because plants only have a certain tolerance to high salt levels, wastewater used for irrigation reduces crop yields. Some states in the US have even banned the use of salt-based water softeners, encouraging homeowners to convert to salt-free systems.
  • Salt-systems require a lot more of your attention. It’s not the case that you can just install the thing and forget about it. You’ll have to regularly top-up the salt levels, otherwise, the product will stop working. This means purchasing and storing large, heavy bags of salt.
  • Salt systems increase the level of salt in your water supply. While not at higher levels to directly harm your health, any increase to your salt intake should be a concern. Lowering your salt intake is known to reduce high blood pressure, one of the factors that lead to heart disease. If you’re on a strict no sodium diet then it is recommended that you avoid salt-based water softeners altogether.
  • The minerals that cause hard water are not themselves bad for you, it’s just the effect of these minerals being deposited on your faucets, shower heads, appliances and yourself that is the problem. In fact, calcium and magnesium are essential for our diets. A salt-based water softener, unfortunately, removes the good minerals completely during its method of ion exchange.

How much do these salt systems cost?

Well, for the Fleck and Crystal Quest, the regular topping up of salt will cost you about $250 per year alone.

The Fleck will cost about $1,050 to purchase the unit, but because salt systems are more difficult to install, you’re going to have to pay a plumber around $400. With the shipping of over $100 to add on too, the total year one cost has now skyrocketed to $1,776.

The Crystal Quest salt system is even more expensive. Adding up the various elements again, you’ll end up paying about $1,855 in your first year of ownership.

So the Fleck softener works out better overall for the first year, but you’re only looking at a $79 advantage over the Cyrstal Quest.

There is a reason why salt systems have been the water softeners of choice for many years now. They work. But also, in the past, you didn’t have much choice, it was either use salt or have hard water.

Times have now changed. New technology means you can now get an effective water softener without all of the negatives we’ve just mentioned.

So now we’ll explore the salt-free options. These work on a number of different scientific principles.

The Salt-Free NuvoH2O – Using Chelation

The nuvoH2O is one of the leading salt-free water softeners. The system is plumbed into your main water supply and works using the scientific principle of chelation. It’s a pretty simple but innovative idea. Your water passes through the nuvo unit (which is very compact) and is exposed to citric acid released from the replaceable cartridge. Citric acid sounds bad, but it’s the same stuff you get in lemons, so it’s safe to drink and will not flavor your water at all. It’s already used to soften water in soaps and laundry detergents.

As the water passes through, the citrus binds with the calcium and magnesium molecules. The effect is that these minerals lose their ability to separate from the water and deposit in the form of scale around your home.

What are the benefits of buying the nuvoH2O?

  • Firstly, it will prevent scale building up around the heating elements of your appliances (water heaters, dishwashers, washer dryers, coffee machines, etc) which means they will work more efficiently. This reduces your utility bills and increases the life of the appliance.
  • The nuvoH2O not only prevents the build-up of the white scale around your home, but it can also remove the scale that is already attached to your heating elements, clogging up your pipes and leaving ugly white stains around your shower heads and faucets.
  • It does not use electricity so does not add to your bills, unlike salt systems and some other salt-free systems.
  • You could install it yourself if you have some basic DIY skills. Even if DIY is not your thing and you need a plumber, it will only take a few minutes and will cost a lot less than the salt systems.
  • Because the nuvoH2O does not waste water, it uses up to 4 times less water than salt-systems. Meaning your bill comes down significantly if you’re converting from an older salt softener.
  • Once the nuvoH20 has got rid of your hard water problem you’ll spend much less each year on soaps and detergents, as hard water prevents them from working properly.
  • It does not use salt so you’re not harming the environment and local agriculture.
  • And, unlike the Fleck and Crystal Quest salt systems, you’ll still have the good minerals in the water.

So what is wrong with the nuvoH2O?

It ticks so many boxes that it’s hard to answer that question. Although nothing is ever perfect.

  • If you’re water does not taste nice, then it will not improve this. You would need to run your water supply through a specialist filtration device.
  • The cartridge held within the nuvo casing unit does need replacing about every six months, although you can change this easily yourself.
  • Its hardness capacity is lower than some of its rivals. This means in very hard water areas, it will be less effective at softening water. However, for low to high hard water areas (which is most of the US) it will do the job for you. Should you have very hard water however, this can be addressed by getting the higher capacity Nuvo Manor system.

What about the costs of the nuvoH2O?

In terms of costs, the nuvoH2O leads the pack in value for money. Its unit price is only $668 including shipping, that’s less than 50% of the price of some of its competitors.

And because the annual maintenance is lower than many other water softeners and the installation is so easy (and therefore cheaper), the year one costs are less than the savings you’ll make in that first year.

Let’s look at the numbers: the product itself will cost you $668 to buy, the replaceable cartridge will be about $120 per year, and installation will be about $150. That gives you a year one total cost of $938. With an estimated saving in year one of $1,000 (from reduced bills, less soap and detergent and a longer life for your appliances), it means you’ll have a net saving of dollars in year one. Something none of the other water softeners being reviewed can claim.

The Salt-Free FUTURA  – Using Catalytic Media

The Futura is another salt-free system that works not by removing the hard water minerals but by preventing them being deposited as limescale around your home. The Futura works using a ceramic media that neutralizes hard water properties without the need for salt or electricity.

When hard water comes into contact with the catalytic surface of the media, hard water minerals become attached to the ceramic granules and get converted into a crystalline form. These crystals are harmless and will not attach to your pipes and water heater elements, preventing scale deposits.

Does it work?

Yes. Like the nuvoH2O the Futura offers some good benefits when compared to a salt-based water softener.

  • It will reduce the amount of soap and detergents that you have to buy each year.
  • Unsightly white scale stains will no longer appear around your faucets and shower heads.
  • Appliances will work much more efficiently and have a longer life as a result.
  • The system does not require annual maintenance costs.
  • The unit itself is much smaller than the salt systems featured above, although larger than the very compact nuvoH2O.
  • You’re not harming the environment by releasing salty waste water into our waterways.

What about the price tag: How does it compare?

Well, although the Futura offers some good benefits like the nuvoH2O, it is considerably more expensive. Arguably, you’re getting less for your money too.

The unit will cost you nearly double the nuvoH20 at $1,190. Add shipping of $50 and installation costs of around $300 and your year one costs are $1,540. Again, with estimated savings of about $1,000, year one will cost you $540. That compares to a $60 saving in year one with the nuvoH20.

The Salt-Free Pelican Natursoft – Using calcium Carbonate Crystal Structures)

Like with the Futura system discussed above, the Pelican Natursoft works with a media that interacts with the calcium and magnesium molecules to prevent them being deposited as limescale.

This time the media has calcium carbonate crystal structures on its surface that will attract the excess minerals. The calcium and magnesium become attached to the crystal structures and grow in size. As the water creates friction on this media, fragments of these crystals (now with the hard water minerals attached) become dislodged and pass through your water.

This means the minerals are still present in your water, but they are now suspended and are unable to be deposited as scale around your home.

What benefits does the Pelican Natursoft offer?

This salt-free product offers many of the same benefits as the Futura and nuvoH2O:

  • It will reduce the amount of soap and detergents that you have to buy each year.
  • Unsightly white scale stains will no longer appear around your faucets and shower heads.
  • Appliances will work much more efficiently and have a longer life as a result.
  • The system does not require annual maintenance costs.
  • You’re not harming the environment by releasing salty waste water into our waterways.

What about the price tag: how does it compare?

Unfortunately, the costs for the Pelican product are even worse than the Futura. You’ll be paying $1,345 just for the unit, that’s $400 dollars more than the whole of the year one costs of the nuvoH2O.

They do offer free same day shipping to the US, though. In total, year one costs for the Pelican Natursoft are about $1,845. That’s as high as the old salt-based systems mentioned above, and about double the year one costs of the nuvoH2O.

The Salt-Free Scalewatcher – Using Magnetism

When reviewing a magnetic water softener, it’s not as easy to simply weigh up the pros and the cons and even the costs. Why? Simply because there is considerable doubt as to whether water can be softened using magnets.

It’s claimed they work just by passing the water through a magnetic field. Magnets are either placed on the outside of your pipes, or installed within the water supply. Proper scientific studies have been performed to test the claims. But there has been no independent, controlled trial that has proven they work. Want to see these results for yourself?

Put simply then, be skeptical about magnetic water softeners.

Salt-free – Reverse Osmosis

Firstly, you should know that reverse osmosis systems are not water softeners, they’re water filters.   But because of the way the system filters water, you do get some of the benefits of a water softener.

Reverse osmosis works by forcing unfiltered water through a semi-permeable membrane (it has tiny holes). Water molecules are smaller than most contaminants you might want to filter out of water, so forcing the water through very small holes leaves the bad stuff on one side of the membrane and purer water on the other side.

This means the larger calcium and magnesium molecules will be filtered out of the water, and therefore preventing the negative effects of hard water.

So why not use reverse osmosis?

You’ll be getting purer water and hard water issues are improved. So it’s a win/win, right? Not quite. Like with salt-based water softeners, there are serious negatives that you need to be aware of:

  • Reverse Osmosis wastes a huge amount of water. It’s incredibly inefficient. It has been estimated that the system only recovers about 15% of the water in a purer form. With the remaining 85% as waste water. Clearly not a sustainable practice.
  • The process also takes all the minerals out of the water. Calcium and magnesium (although the cause of hard water issues) are not actually harmful to your health. In fact, these minerals form an essential part of your diet.
  • Because you’re filtering out minerals that are meant to be in water, you can get left with less healthy, poorer tasting drinking water.

Because of these issues, reverse osmosis as a process is not recommended.

A non-salty summary

As you can see from this analysis of current water softeners on the market, there is growing evidence that a salt-based system (although it will help with hard water) will do your pocket and the environment more harm than good.

It seems clear that the question you now have is not: should I use salt or not? But rather, which salt-free system should I choose? In answer to this question, it seems the nuvoH2O tops the list of the products featured here. Both in terms of effectiveness, its green credentials and its vastly superior value for money.

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